By Arthur Weinreb: Canada and the United States are the only two Western countries that automatically grant citizenship to babies born within their respective countries. In Canada, the only exception to this rule is for persons born on Canadian soil while one of their parents are in the country as part of a diplomatic mission. Most other countries provide citizenship only to those children whose parents are citizens or legal residents of the country the children are born in.
Since coming to power in 2006, the Conservatives have moved to tighten up citizenship. This in part stems from the war in the same year between Israel and Lebanon. Thousands of Canadian citizens who were really living permanently in Lebanon demanded “their government” rescue them from the war zone.
Recently, the residency requirements of those applying for citizenship have been strengthened and applicants are now required to provide Notices of Assessment issued by the Canada Revenue Agency to prove they were resident in Canada for income tax purposes for the required time period.
The Harper government has also taken active steps to strip naturalized citizens of their citizenship when it is proved that citizenship was obtained by fraud.
The Toronto Star, through an access to information request, obtained a secret document [PDF] prepared last year for then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. This report lists the pros and cons of abolishing automatic Canadian citizenship to babies born in the country.
The purpose of the restrictions on who automatically becomes a Canadian citizen is to do away with birth tourism or “anchor babies”. Currently, pregnant women can come to Canada, give birth and then return home. The child will have Canadian citizenship and when he or she turns 18, they can come to Canada and sponsor their parents, grandparents and a host of other relatives. The Conservative government wants to restrict citizenship to those who have a real connection to Canada.
Mothers who come to the country can also leave the child here, then make an application to come to or remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds because they have a son or daughter who is a Canadian citizen and living in Canada.
An exception to any proposed changes would have to be made for babies born in Canada if denying them Canadian citizenship would render them stateless. Not only is it against international law but from a practical point of view, they would remain in Canada because there is nowhere else for them to be sent.
One criticism of the proposal made in the report is the cost to implement it. Out of approximately 360,000 births a year, only 500 have been determined to be anchor babies. It is admitted this number is low because records are not kept of the immigration status of parents when a child is born and no records are kept of people leaving Canada. There is no way complete numbers could possibly be known.
If the numbers are indeed relatively low, the costs to both the provinces and the feds would be high. Investigations would have to be made and records kept of the status of parents of all babies born in the country. And because birth certificates will no longer be able to be used as proof of citizenship, the federal government will have to come up with another document that people can use to prove they are citizens of Canada.
If the matter of citizenship by birth goes beyond the secret report to a consideration of changing the law, there will be a lot of opposition from the usual sources. Critics will argue that preventing some babies born in Canada from acquiring automatic citizenship will lead to the creation two-tiered citizens.
Others will argue denying automatic citizenship will lead to a slippery slope that will see the government move to take away the citizenship of those born in Canada but have citizenship in another country and who engage in terrorism or other serious criminal acts. The “no one is illegal” crowd and those who think all the benefits legal Canadians receive should go to the “undocumented” will not be pleased.
It is difficult to predict if anything will happen with this proposal. As admirable as it is to take steps to make citizenship more meaningful, it simply may not be worth the cost of implementation.